South of Portsmouth, on New Hampshire’s rocky coast, is a waterfront walkway that stretches for nearly three miles between the 17th-century settlement of Little Boar’s Head and the Atlantic Ocean. It takes about an hour to stroll from one end, at North Hampton State Beach in the town of North Hampton, to the other, at Jenness State Beach in the town of Rye.
For over two centuries after the English arrived here, Little Boar’s Head remained undeveloped, home to a small farming and fishing community. In the middle of the 19th century, it became a vacation spot, and soon thereafter a seasonal destination for the wealthy and connected. “Cottages,” or summer mansions, sprung up high above the ocean. Governors of New Hampshire and Massachusetts summered in Little Boar’s Head. Presidents Franklin Pierce, James Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, William Howard Taft, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt spent time here. Diplomats, legislators, industrialists, and artists all found their way to this glittering shore.
They were drawn to the area’s undeniable coastal beauty: the slope of the hill, formed by ancient glaciers, and the sweeping blue expanse of the Gulf of Maine and the Atlantic beyond. That beauty, and the pathway created by the coastline and its protective seawall, is what makes this place worth visiting today – even if only for a short but memorable walk.
Much of the route is sidewalk, though it often becomes a narrow path through the grass between the road and the shore. Occasionally it is simply the shoulder of the road, but for a moment it takes the form of a wooden boardwalk, and in a few spots, it lets you climb the stony seawall and walk along the beach. A number of benches are perched above the waves along the way.
As you walk, historic landmarks and natural beauty compete for your attention. On one side are sprawling mansions overlooking the water (along with a few newer homes, less aesthetically pleasing but equally imposing.) Some have impressive pedigrees; all provide a game for the imagination: what would it be like, to live every day with that view? Perhaps more charming are the smaller structures, like the old fish houses just north of North Hampton State Beach, built beginning in the early 19th century. These small buildings, twelve of which remain, were used by fishermen for storing equipment and processing their catch.
On the other side, there is the spectacle of the sea. Blue waves crash into white foam (the area is popular with surfers) and the rocks piled below the path glimmer in pale grey and shiny black and multi-hued stripes. In lower-lying spots, marshy grasses ring small ponds, and narrow brooks empty into the ocean. Flocks of seabirds congregate on the sand and soar in formation across the sky.
The road – US 1A, here called Ocean Boulevard, naturally – follows the curves and jags of the coastline. In a few places, especially if you’re driving, the land seems to drop away and the water stretches out dramatically below. If you’re on foot, though, you can turn and look back, taking in the view from all directions. You can pause where you like, as long as you need, and then continue, gazing out at the waves that roll out as far as the eye can see.
There are two public parking lots convenient to this route, located at the state beaches at both ends of the trail. They’re free in the off season, but note the prices if you’re visiting in the summer.
North Hampton State Beach
Address: 27 Ocean Blvd, North Hampton, NH 03862
Jenness State Beach
Address: 2280 Ocean Blvd, Rye, NH 03870
There is also street parking along the route.
Little Boar’s Head is largely residential, so there are few amenities along the route (though there are plenty of restaurants and other local businesses nearby.) The restrooms at the state beaches are closed in the off-season.
- Don’t confuse North Hampton State Beach in North Hampton, the southern end of the walking trail, with Hampton Beach State Park in Hampton, a few miles away.
- Similarly, Little Boar’s Head (a historic district in North Hampton and the location of this walk) is not the same as Great Boar’s Head (a neighborhood in Hampton) a bit to the south.
- Though the beaches themselves are as sparse as you’d expect in the off-season, this spot is popular with surfers, so parking can fill up quickly when conditions are right.
- If you’d rather add this walk into a longer trip, the city of Portsmouth – an often unheralded highlight of New England – is just twenty minutes away. (Portland, ME, is also just an hour north.) Another nearby spot worth seeing is the small island town of New Castle, with two preserved fort sites and a historic resort hotel. Or, simply make your walk longer, planning extra time to explore the other state beaches and parks that dot New Hampshire’s 18 miles of coastline.